When people tend to hear the word fat they immediately think it means something bad when in reality fats can be very beneficial to us. Fats help us with things such as the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K, keeping hair and skin healthy, and helping to insulate our bodies to keep us warm and protect our inner organs. The trick is knowing what type of fats we should and should not consume.
Dietary fats have six major roles in our bodies. These roles include things such as providing us with energy, helping to make and balance our hormones, forming cell membranes, forming our brain and nervous system, the transportation of fat-soluble vitamins, and giving us two fatty acids that we can’t make on our own. We find that most of these dietary fats are some type of combination of saturated, polyunsaturated, and monounsaturated fatty acids. In order to eat more foods that have this balance, we can consume foods such as dairy, eggs, fatty fish, wild game, poultry, fresh coconut, avocados, nuts, and seeds. These types of food naturally have a balance of different types of fats, which will allow us to thrive at our best.
Fats are separated into four types: saturated fats, trans fats, monounsaturated fats, and polyunsaturated fats. All four types of fat each contain 9 calories per gram, yet those 9 calories are not created equally among the four types. Saturated and trans fats are both what we consider to be bad fats. These are fats that have a negative effect on our heart health. Meanwhile, both monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats are what we consider good fats and are very beneficial to our health if eaten in moderation.
Saturated fats are those that tend to cause blockages in our heart when we consume too much because these types of fats tend to be solid at room temperature. The more saturated the fats are, the worse they tend to cause blockages within our heart and arteries. It has also been found that foods high in saturated fat are also usually high in cholesterol as well. Think of saturated fats as cars in a parking lot. The more saturated the fat is, the more spots it takes up. This is why they tend to easily cause those blockages when consumed in large amounts. On the other hand, trans fats are going to be artificially made fats. They come from industrial fat processing, by taking unsaturated fats and adding hydrogen ion bubbles into it to make it into a solid at room temperature. Even one meal with a high trans fat content can diminish blood vessel function and elasticity. We find both of the saturated fats and trans fats mainly in processed foods such as pizza, cheese, butter, beef, pork, or lamb, snack foods, coconut, and cacao (chocolate). When we find ourselves consuming saturated fats we want to make sure that they are balanced with other fat types, (such as monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated fats).
Unsaturated fats are those that we want to add more of into our diet. This is because these types of fats are liquid at room temperature and have more of a “kink” in their shape, which therefore makes it harder for them to pack together inside our heart and passageways. Monounsaturated fats have actually been found to help lower your overall risk for cardiovascular disease and overall mortality, while polyunsaturated fats help with muscle movement and blood clotting. Our body doesn’t make polyunsaturated fats on its own, which is why it is super important to eat more omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids. We tend to find either monounsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats in foods such as avocados, seafood, nuts, corn, flaxseed, oils, seeds, sesame, and olives.
The amount of fats that we consume in a day is going to generally be in the range of 25-35% of the macros we take in. This number will range depending on different factors such as the size of the person, activity level, and ultimately how they feel they function best. The easiest way to measure out how much fat you need in a meal is by using your thumb for measurement. Generally, women will consume 1 thumb-size portion of fat per meal and men will consume 2 thumb-size portions of fat per meal.
As seen from above, fats can provide us with amazing benefits if taken within the correct amounts. However, they can also have a major impact on our heart health if taken in excess amounts. The key to taking in fats is ensuring that we have a balanced amount of all the fats so our bodies can function properly.
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